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Ramp Up Weekend: How Manitoba-born ideas can evolve into big business

Winners and fan favourites of annual “idea to startup” competition presented by North Forge Technology Exchange

Entrepreneurship in Manitoba is thriving and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a budding new business may be closer than you think. Presenting new ideas and seeing startup companies launch as a result along the way, North Forge’s Ramp Up Weekend is going strong in its 11th competition. This year’s event saw some inventive ideas take the top prizes.

The framework of Ramp Up Weekend

Over the June 1 to 3 weekend, teams spent an intense 55 hours building a minimum viable product. As Andrew Parkinson, Senior Manager, Communications, Government & Community Affairs at Bell MTS explained in his welcoming remarks, teams would be involved in a fun but competitive weekend.

Up for grabs would be a very impressive prize — the chance to have their prototype brought to life by a team of students at Red River College’s ACE Project Space. Also at stake — cash prizes that could help their potential new companies get off the ground quickly while greatly reducing their business risk.

“Winners will also receive access to North Forge’s proven startup program, expert mentorship and office space,” adds Jeff Ryzner, President of North Forge. “They’ll enjoy free legal, accounting and marketing services from top-shelf providers.”

Those prizes have proven valuable for past winners and participants of the event who have gone on to raise millions of dollars of investment capital. Past Ramp Up Weekend participants are now also driving demand for high-skilled jobs here in Manitoba — helping put Winnipeg on the map as a technology startup destination in Canada.

To kick things off on Friday evening, ideas were pitched and teams formed organically to start collaborating on next steps — this is where the innovation magic begins.

The duration of the weekend was spent developing product prototypes, customer traction strategies, marketing plans and brand assets. Experienced mentors and advisors lent their expertise to accelerate the process and guide the teams through the weekend.

Fan favourite grows successful franchise & rejoins competition

Go Oil Canada

Jonathan Sparrow lead last year’s team for Go Oil Canada, winning the “Fan Favourite” category. His team built a business around convenient oil changes, coming directly to you and making this chore a little more accessible.

“Last year, I was new to Winnipeg. I moved from Brandon and was here for only one month,” explained Sparrow. Fast forward nine months and Go Oil Canada now has four full-time staff and has created seven jobs in Winnipeg. The startup is also selling franchises across Canada.

Sparrow has also become a very active member of the local business community. He is a member of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, North Forge’s Startup Program, RRC’s ACE Space and has received funding from Futurpreneur Manitoba. Sparrow and his business were also recently featured in the National Post — providing great exposure for such a young company.

Go Oil Canada

“Ramp Up Weekend was a life-changing experience for me. The skills I acquired over the weekend led to the successful launch of my current company that was formed over Ramp Up Weekend. It’s an opportunity to realize and unlock your potential,” Sparrow further explained.

This year, the young CEO is back in the competition. Why would a past winner compete again? To Sparrow, the competition is part of the thrill. “It’s fun. Competing isn’t necessarily to start a new business, but also about the value that you get out of it. I’m participating this year with a new team to help them to succeed and start a business.”

Mentors keep the energy and education

Dustin Refvik

Dustin Refvik, partner at Master of Code Canada and co-founder of FarmTrack Technologies provided mentorship and guidance at this year’s event, as he’s done every year of Ramp Up Weekend.

“I like to mentor and volunteer because these are the types of events that have helped me get my business off the ground. More specifically, Ramp Up Weekend is what started FarmTrack,” Refvik recalls.

“I think it’s important for these weekends to exist to help new entrepreneurs establish the confidence to get out and take risks. I also believe these types of events create a sense of community among the cohorts of new startup founders.”

Event emcees, Caity Curtis and Stephen Sims from The Improv Company, were also excited to be part of the event since every startup business can use a dose of improvisation here and there.

We were interested in volunteering our time to emcee Ramp Up Weekend because we love the idea of a group of people all being thrown together to create something in a short amount of time,” the duo explained. “For us, that is what improvisation is — collaborating and creating something in the now.“

Live audience for Dragons’ Den-style showdown

Ramp Up Weekend

The final hours of Ramp Up Weekend are some of the most exciting for spectators, who get to witness the complete pitches from all the teams.

For those lucky enough to secure a free ticket, they witnessed the teams explain their best ideas to a panel of judges well-versed in the world of startups and entrepreneurship. The judges’ panel included:

  • Forough Khadem, Business Development Specialist at Mitacs and WCIO and nominee of the CBC’s 40 under 40 youth leaders
  • Joelle Foster, Executive Director of the University of Calgary Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and former Director of Futurpreneur in Winnipeg
  • Michael Legary, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Winnipeg and Director of Innovation Alley

With hundreds of attendees and a room packed with innovative minds, the competition sparked some brilliant ideas, and the judges had their work cut out for them.

2018 Teams and Winners

Ramp Up Weekend

1st Place: TaiV, an artificially intelligent box that allows restaurants and sports bars to replace commercials with their own curated content.

Ramp Up Weekend

2nd Place: Rampit, which brought forward the easiest way to connect all your task management tools.

Ramp Up Weekend

Fan Favourite: BlockIt, an app that uses AI to block out content such as spoilers on social channels.

Other teams sparked curiosity and delight with their innovative pitches.  These included:

  • Help You Heal: A cannabis education site.
  • Beer Master: An app that helps beer lovers find their favourite beers.
  • Schity Coffee Co.: A coffee company based on a brand of lowered expectations.
  • Creatifig: A streaming service for games.
  • Automigo: A company dedicated to helping customers with online car buying

For more on Ramp Up Weekend and how to get involved in the North Forge community, visit their events page.


Up Next: Learn more about what happens throughout the entire Ramp Up Weekend here, and see the list of 2017 winners to get an extra dose of innovative inspiration.

Marney Stapley

Marney is the Vice President, North Forge Technology Exchange. The North Forge Technology Exchange provides access to advanced digital fabrication and prototyping equipment with support from entrepreneurial and innovation communities. In her spare time, she helps to shape one of the world's most respected blogs dedicated entirely to Additive Manufacturing / 3D printing. She is also a volunteer for TEDx Winnipeg as a team member who selects and works with engaging speakers.

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